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Does a self-contained environment for authoring research papers exist? Clearly, the concept might be a little unclear, so here's an attempt to better define what I mean:

  • All sources used would be within the system; for example, a static-clone of Wikipedia.
  • The workflow for researching, tracking source notation, fact validation, text-editing, and final review, would all be within the system.
  • Use would be for basic education, not professional writing.

General use of such a system would be based around reducing the overhead to learning to write research papers. For example, the first "research paper" would simply be finding a topic, rephrasing the supporting topic sentences, and writing a conclusion sentence. The expert/last would be manually tracking the citation of sources, doing original research external to the system, etc.

UPDATE: Thought I might share additional "logic" on why I believe such a system would be of value. For starters, creative thinking/sourcing/independent research to me easy to separate from the action of rephrasing and summarizing information gathered in sources and presenting that information in a meaningful, yet interesting way. Beyond that, facts changed, but the skill required to present them roughly stays the same. By having a static source, it would allow all research, phrasing, etc. to be traced real-time, possibly even in a semi-automated way. Beyond that, Wikipedia is big enough, to write enough research papers to learn to write research papers, but allow people to select topics on their own. By keep the version of Wikipedia static, no links between the source and research would ever go broken, and as a result, ever paper on written on the system would be able to be used to teach other people and good and bad choices in writing a research paper, since the papers would also be wikis.

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Have done some retagging and editing; if I've missed the mark in the title, please feel free to roll back my edit. –  Neil Fein Apr 6 '12 at 16:03
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"A static clone of Wikipedia"? (1) wouldn't that require a staggering amount of space to contain all of Wikipedia? (2) why would Wikipedia be considered a legitimate source for a research paper? (3) why static, if it can be updated at any time? –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 6 '12 at 17:09
    
Additionally, I don't think it's possible to have "all sources within the system," as in "you don't need to go on the Internet, or even leave your house, to look for anything," unless the "system" is a particular library where everything is digitized and you aren't required or allowed to use any sources outside that one library. The usefulness or feasibility of such a system would really be limited to high school, I would think. –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 6 '12 at 17:11
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"Basic education, not professional writing" is very important. Could you add that to the original question? –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 6 '12 at 18:45
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For general interest, Wikipedia does support downloading dumps of their database. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Database_download. It's about 31 gig uncompressed, but doesn't include images. So not as big as one might think. –  Michael Kohne Apr 7 '12 at 21:27

3 Answers 3

Would an application like Mead Builder - Research Paper Edition be a start?

helps students write better research papers by prompting them to create a schedule based on a step-by-step process. It also assists students with organizing their notes and sources and writing their paper in keeping with standard MLA format.

Sadly it has been discontinued.

I also appears that EndNote, although certainly not self-contained, nor structured for actual instruction, at least simplifies the reference portion by allowing one to search globally on-line from within the software and then automatically create and maintain the references as required.

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One of the main problems with creating a self-contained software environment for research papers and other types of authorship is that we're dealing with all the information in the world that could be useful at any given time.

Though one could download the entire mirror of Wikipedia, attempting to parse that large of a database of information in a way that could be useful to you as an individual is nearly impossible. For example: say you are writing about the advent of indoor plumbing in Great Britain. Using Wikipedia, you might start out with an article that is absolutely relevant by name, but end up on an article that would seem to be completely unrelated, but is relevant by reference.

I would assume that the best way to work toward a platform such as this would be to look at your own goals in any given situation, and find something that suits your needs as close as possible, and use self control to weed out all of the "extra fluff" that's out there and keep things organized.

Something like Evernote could be a good start. While not explicitly solving the problem, Evernote (or an Evernote-like software application) could be extremely useful by providing a way for you to easily capture the research that you are doing, and allowing you to link between documents in a simple fashion, essentially creating your own cyclopedic system for whatever it is you are researching. Using a system such as this would not only provide you with a means to link to outside resources, but also copy those resources to a local/contained storage medium, thereby eliminating some of the pitfalls (such as link rot) of strictly using online sources.

This doesn't help you with standard formatting, automated references or bibliographic information, but it could be a good start toward creating a system that works for you, while still allowing you the flexibility to change formats in the future.

My guess is that a system to perfectly fit the criteria you have put forth doesn't exist today, not for lack of trying in the past.

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Authorea by MIT is probably what you're looking for.

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When you're recommending a solution that you're affilated with it's required you disclose it. Also, unless I'm missing something, the tool you're referencing is not self-contained; think of Wikipedia being versioned with your tool, and if text is cited from Wikipedi that's updated, the author(s) get a ping and are able to view how other paper are using the source text too. Make sense? Thanks! –  blunders Sep 18 '13 at 21:24
    
I am NOT affilated with Authorea. –  treecoder Sep 19 '13 at 19:12
    
+1 My bad, thanks for replying. –  blunders Sep 20 '13 at 0:42
    
Could you say a little more about it? Why is it a good solution? (We like answers to stand on their own, not just be links.) Thanks. –  Monica Cellio Sep 20 '13 at 1:36
    
I really like the spirit of SE moderators wanting to make answers as descriptive as possible, but sometimes a link pointing to a web page describes something lot better than can be explained in the answer. –  treecoder Sep 20 '13 at 18:34

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